26 April 2010

Nýr U.S. sendiherra til Íslands (A New U.S. Ambassador to Iceland)

The following is the English text from a newspaper article in Iceland today declaring that President Obama has assigned a new ambassador to Iceland:

"US President Barack Obama has appointed Luis E. Arreaga as US ambassador to Iceland. Arreaga holds a doctorate degree in economics and has extensive experience in the foreign service.

"Arreaga has served in US embassies in Panama, Canada and Spain and worked for the US delegation at the United Nations in Geneva. Arreaga has also been involved in projects in Peru, El Salvador and Honduras, Frettabladid reports.

"No US ambassador has been stationed in Iceland since Carol van Voorst left the post one year ago."

It is normal for there to be a lag time between when the US ambassador to Iceland leaves the post and when a new ambassador is assigned, but this gap in ambassadors was longer than normal. I can find no information as to why this was the case. His Spanish skills won't be helpful at all, but I am sure his diplomatic skills are finely tuned.

19 April 2010

Eyjafjallajökull eða Eyjafjalladjöfull (Island Mountain Glacier or Island Mountain Devil)

While the volcano in Iceland is wreaking havoc on the flight plans of millions of people throughout Europe, and the financial loss to international airlines is over $200 million a day, a lone NASA satellite took this spectacular photo of the volcano and the associated ash spewing southward into the sky.

12 April 2010

Dönskumaður?...Hvar? (A Dane?...Where?)

Returned missionaries from Iceland always feel kind of like a much younger, adopted brother when someone from Denmark is around. The historical record states that Iceland was settled during a 60 year period starting in 874 A.D. But in the year 1262, Iceland finally gave in to pressure from Denmark and became a territory of Denmark. For the next 500 years or so, Iceland was at the whims of the Danish State and was at times, well looked after, and at others, not so much. Denmark set rules about who could trade with the Icelanders, who could stay over during the winters and who Icelanders could sell their goods to. In the late 1700's, Reykjavík was a thriving metropolis of just over 300 people. Before that time, individual farms were the rule, without a city center to be had anywhere. But eventually, trade centers became necessary for the Danish rulers and Reykjavík became the primary trade center. Of the tradesmen of that day who had set up shop in town, six of the seven (total) were Danes, only one being Icelandic. All trade was done in a half mile area in what was then and is now called "Torgið" or the town square.

Danish trade ships were larger and more advanced than Icelanders were used to. The Danish tradesmen were more traveled and used to dealing with a wide variety of international trading partners. The Icelanders had to take a set price for their fish goods, regardless of changes in the international markets. This and many other situational factors contributed to the Icelanders feeling like the less-important younger sibling in the Scandinavian family. Immature, backward, inexperienced.

On Thursday last week, the Danish Ambassador to the U.S. came to BYU for a visit as part of BYU's Ambassador Visits program. His name and title are, "His Excellency Friis Arne Petersen". On Sunday he attended the "Music and the Spoken Word" performance in the Conference Center in Salt Lake along with the morning session of General Conference right after. On Monday and Tuesday he toured the state by seeing Zions National Park, the Grand Canyon and Bryce Canyon with the Honorary Danish Consul, Niels Valentiner, and his wife, Char, along with other Danish hosts from BYU. On Wednesday he met with the First Presidency and toured Temple Square and the Conference Center. He also visited the U of U campus and gave a lecture at the Hinckley Institute of Politics there. Other highlights of the day were visiting the Humanitarian Center, Welfare Square and the Family History Library.

Thursday was the day he came to BYU and I was able to interact with him. He met with the Governor of Utah in the morning, but then came down to BYU to meet with President Samuelson and then give a lecture. His lecture was on the Danish-American relationship and its challenges. He did not use notes but spoke about the issues from long practice. Danish students had been invited as well as any other interested students. Notable Danes from the area were also invited along with a number of those with Danish ancestry or connections within the Danish community. I was invited because I am the Director of the BYU International Admissions office, but also because I teach Icelandic on campus. A previous Honorary Consul to Iceland, Clark Thorstenson, and his wife, Colleen, were there. I had met them at Þorrablót a few months before. Dee and Kay Jacobs were there. Dee was a mission president and temple president in Denmark just a few years back. Even my old Danish supervising teacher from my days of teaching Icelandic at the MTC back in the 80's was there, Sonja Despain. I had difficulty grasping the full import of the lecture, but then, what do you expect from an immature, backward and inexperienced younger brother in the Scandinavian family.

After the lecture about 60 people were invited to the luncheon with the ambassador. I got to sit with his U.S. and campus security detail, learning a lot about the rules for protecting important people. Everyone introducted themselves to the ambassador as we entered the room for the luncheon. As always, when an RM who served in Iceland introduces himself to a Dane or other Scandinavian, the Dane will act very surprised to meet someone who had lived there and spoke the language. Their surprise still surprises me since we are really part of the same family.

The luncheon eventually wound down with a smaller version of BYU's jazz band, Synthesis, performing two numbers. They will be touring Denmark and a number of other countries next year, so that was fitting. Eventually, His Excellency was off to the MTC to visit a Danish district of missionaries and to tour the facility. He later met with Scandinavian language instructors at BYU, toured our campus museum, had dinner and was on his way.

The most interesting thing he said during his lecture was when he said that as the ambassador of a small country, he had to always remember that being deferential at the right times was an important part of the job, since his country was a small one with little military and comparative clout in the world. I thought that interesting, especially since I am connected with Iceland, an even smaller country with no military. Remembering his place seemed to be an important part of being effective.

One other thing he said was quite interesting. He said that, in all the years he had been in this position, this visit to Utah had been the most memorable. He said that the kindness and genuine interest that had been shown to him while in Utah had dwarfed anything he had experienced elsewhere. Quite a compliment. So even though Icelanders and Western Icelanders in America are many fewer than the Danes in the world, we can hold our heads up that we took care of the Danish representative who came calling, just like Icelanders have done for over 6 centuries.

07 April 2010

Sagnir á Íslensku (Verbs in Icelandic)

When I was in the MTC in 1984, our non-Icelandic returned missionary teachers taught us about verbs at one point. I remember being very confused about this (and most other) parts of the lanuage. Að telja (to count) was a weak 1 type of verb. Að kenna (to teach) was a weak 2 type. Að þola (to endure) a weak 3 and að elska (to love) a weak 4. Important verbs, each, when preaching the gospel. Unfortunately, I, and many other missionaries, were never able to really use this framework to our advantage. I just ended up having to memorize how each verb worked and how to use it in present, past and on occasion, subjunctive and future.

I am now teaching this semester of the Icelandic 102 class out of a series of books that were published by Námsflokkar Reykjavíkur or the Educational Association of Reykjavík. The book series is called "Íslenska sem erlent mál – stig 1, 2, 3 og 4" or "Icelandic as a Foreign Language, levels 1, 2, 3 and 4". The students, and I, have been introduced to an entirely new classification system for verbs. In this system there are 5 verb classes, with no mention of weak or strong types. Each verb is classed based on how it conjugates in the ég, þú and hann (I, you, he) positions. Regla 1 verbs (Rule 1) all appear in the ég position as they do in the infinitive. For example, a Rule one verb, að elska (to love) is conjugated the same in the infinite form as it is in the ég (I) form. Then in both the þú and hann postions, you just add an r:

að elska (to love)

ég elska
þú elskar
hann elskar

Rule 2 verbs all end in "i" in the ég postition and then add an r in the þú og hann positions:

að læra (to learn)

ég læri
þú lærir
hann lærir

Rules 3, 4 and 5 have some vowel changes in the stem in the ég, þú and hann postions.

Rule 3 verbs all end in a consonant in the ég position with just the stem of the verb and then add a ur in the þú and hann positions:

að gefa (to give)

ég gef
þú gefur
hann gefur

Rule 4 verbs all end with just the stem of the verb with a vowel change in the stem and without a consonant. Then they add an "rð" in the þú position and just an "r" in the hann position:

að sjá (to see)

ég sé
þú sérð
hann sér

að búa (to live)

ég bý
þú býrð
hann býr

And finally the Rule 5 verbs all end in a consonant with the stem of the verb (and a vowel shift sometimes) in the ég position and then add either an "ð" or an "s" to the stem for the þú position and then take it back for the hann position.

að fara

ég fer
þú ferð
hann fer

að lesa

ég les
þú lest
hann les

These are the five rules for verbs in Icelandic. Once you've got them down, the rest is easy. Okay, that is far from true, but knowing what kind of verb each is makes it much easier to know how to use.

In the we, you (plural) and they positions, the verbs are all the same (something easy in Icelandic? Unheard of):

Við (we) - add "um" to the stem.
Þið (you plural) - add "ið" to the stem
Þeir (they) - use the infinitive of the verb

What could be easier.